The Rockwell Museum of Western Art promotes itself as having "the finest American Western and Native American art collection this side of the Mississippi." Corning business owners Bob and Hertha Rockwell amassed an impressive collection of Western art and artifacts, Carder Steuben glass, firearms, and antique toys. They displayed this in their family department store today known as the Rockwell Center. As their collection grew they decided to donate this to a future museum. In 1974 executives from Corning Glass Works embraced the vision of a new museum in Corning. A temporary home opened in the Baron Steuben Hotel in November 1976 while a permanent home was being secured in the Old City Hall building. The City Hall building had been vacated in 1972 following a devastating flood caused by Hurricane Agnes.
The Old City Hall building was designed by architect A.J. Warner and built by Thomas Bradley in 1893 for less than $29,000. A capital campaign launched in 1980 generated $2.5 million to restore the exterior of the building and redesign the interior for exhibition space. Architect John D. Milner created plans to guide the rehabilitation. Original features such as tin ceilings in the Fire Station Gallery and the Art Room were retained, as was the iron door to the women's jail.